Vinny Del Negro is putting Kirk Hinrich and Taj Gibson into the starting lineup primarily because he saw the Bulls were not getting off to good starts in games. He's trying to get some more focus and energy at the beginning of games. This is not a reflection on Brad Miller or John Salmons. No one expected Brad Miller to play starters' minutes - his role was to come off the bench and spell Joakim Noah or Tyrus Thomas.
It's no secret that John Salmons was struggling with his shot. Bringing John off the bench is a way to get him going and he does provide a scoring threat as part of the 2nd unit.
The next 9 games for the Bulls presents another "critical" stretch for the team. We all thought December would be "critical"...coming off of the West Coast road trip. But with 9 games against a lot of sub-.500 teams, the Bulls have a chance to gain some ground and get back to .500. The Bulls need to beat the teams they are supposed to beat and get some wins at home and this next part of the schedule gives them that opportunity.
* The Bulls have won the last two meetings between the teams, including a 98-89 victory in
* The Knicks have won five straight games at
* Luol Deng has scored at least 20 points in each of his last four games, averaging 23.0 points on 52.1 percent shooting from the field in those contests.
* David Lee is averaging 21.0 points and 11.6 rebounds over his last seven home games, scoring at least 15 points in each of those contests.
* The Knicks are second in the league with 263 three-point field goals, while Chicago is dead-last, connecting on just 88 three-point attempts this season.
* The Bulls are 9-1 this season when allowing fewer than 95 points, versus 1-14 when allowing 95 or more.
* The Kings are 10-3 (.769) at home but just 2-11 (.154) on the road. That's tied for the largest win percent difference in the NBA between home and road (.615; also Bobcats and Hornets).
* Tyreke Evans ranks among the NBA rookie leaders in scoring (20.0, 2nd), rebounding (5.1, 4th), assists (5.1, 2nd), steals (1.5, 2nd), and minutes (36.0, 1st).
* Jason Thompson is averaging 19.6 points and 10.1 rebounds over his last seven games, shooting 60.2 percent from the field.
* Derrick Rose scored a career-high 32 points in Saturday's win over the Hawks, making 14-of-24 shots. He also had no turnovers for just the second game this season.
If someone asked me 'Have the Bulls played like a play-off team?', I would have to answer 'no.'
But that doesn't mean they are out of the race by any means. One year ago, the Bulls were a game under .500 at this point in the season and came within a game of taking the 6th seed in the East and fought the Celtics to a 7th game in the first round.
There are a number of teams with similar records to the Bulls. Just a short little 3 or 4 game winning streak will put the Bulls front of teams like Indiana, New York or Detroit.
Before tonight's game against Atlanta, Vinny Del Negro said Tyrus Thomas is about a week away from playing again. At the start of the season, I thought one of the Bulls' greatest strenghts was their depth. With Hinrich and Thomas out with injuries, Vinny has had to put guys in unfamiliar positions and guys have racked up extended minutes. Tyrus can play a couple of different positions and he can defend a couple positions, so Vinny will have more versatility with his roster and that, I think, will benefit the Bulls in the weeks to come.
* The Bulls rank next-to-last in the NBA in both scoring (90.2; Nets - 89.3) and field-goal percentage (.423; Nets - .415). They have topped 100 points just twice in 23 games this season.
* Danilo Gallinari went without a three-pointer for just the third time this season on Tuesday. He ranks third in the league with 2.8 three-pointers made per game.
* David Lee has made at least 50 percent of his shots in 12 straight games (63.2 percent over that stretch).
* Joakim Noah pulled down 20 rebounds in Tuesday's loss to the Lakers, with 14 coming on the offensive end. That's the most offensive rebounds in a game since Shaquille O'Neal had 14 versus
Obviously, when the Lakers come to town it's more than just a great team coming in to the United Center - it brings back memories of the Bulls' six NBA Championships during Phil Jackson's tenure as head coach. But even beyond the banners and the trophies, it's all the people who worked with Phil here in Chicago and are with him in Los Angeles, too....Frank Hamblen, Jim Cleamons, Chip Schaeffer and Tex Winter who taught the triangle offense here in Chicago and also to the Lakers in LA.
The thing I think that is so remarkable about Phil Jackson's championship teams is the way Phil handles the personalities and the superstar egos of his players. He was terrific with that in Chicago with Michael and Scottie and Dennis Rodman and in LA with Shaq and Kobe. There are 2 coaches who were able to do that....Phil Jackson, as I explained, and Chuck Daly was the other.
Tonight the Bulls face the World Champion Lakers at the United Center. The 18-4 Lakers are coming off a loss to Utah Saturday. They are a championship caliber team and they know what it is like to go on the road and they understand that every time you step into someone's building it will be a playoff atmosphere. Every team they face looks at it as their championship game. Tonight, for instance, the struggling Bulls will have that much more incentive and that much more motivation to beat the Lakers because they are the World Champions, not to mention the collective individual talent that the Lakers have. They are clearly one of the best teams in the league right now. This would be easy for L.A. to come in and slip up by thinking that the Bulls are struggling and how they beat them at home a few weeks ago. They Lakers scored 60 points in the paint and Pau Gasol had a huge game coming off an injury. It would be easy for the Lakers to come in and feel like this will be an easy game, a night off. The Bulls philosophy, on the other hand, will be to come out and treat it like a playoff game. They just lost a tough one to Boston and you have the World Champs coming in is motivation enough. It will be tough for the Bulls facing probably the best player in the league, Kobe Bryant. Not to mention their Head Coach, Phil Jackson who might go down as the best coach in NBA history. This makes for many sub plots in tonight's game. The crowd will be rocking and will provide a great energy at the U.C. tonight. The Bulls don't need any more motivation than that. The Lakers are chasing something other than a Championship. They possibly are chasing the Bulls record of 72-10 achieved in the 95-96 season. They do have the talent to challenge that record. So every game is important to them, they are chasing history. Thanks for visiting and watch the Bulls on WGN & WGN America tonight at 7pm ct.
* The Lakers have won the last five meetings between the teams, including a 108-93 win in
* Beginning with that loss to the Lakers, the Bulls have lost 10 of their last 12 games, getting outscored by an average of 105.0 to 90.3 points in those contests.
* The Celtics have won nine straight games, with a 51.3 field-goal percentage over that span. Six of the nine wins have come on the road.
* Ray Allen became the 32nd player in NBA history to reach 20,000 career points with 18 points against the Wizards Thursday.
* Over his last three games, Rajon Rondo has 29 assists and just three turnovers. He scored a season-high 21 points on Thursday.
* After going 6-4 in their first 10 games of the season, the Bulls are 1-9 over their last 10, with all but two of the nine losses being by at least 14 points.
* Monta Ellis has averaged 25.1 ppg against Eastern Conference teams this season - 7th in the NBA (min. 8 G vs. East).
* Derrick Rose's field goal percentage has gone up as games go along this season - 36.5 percent in 1st, 42.3 in 2nd, 50.0 in 3rd and 57.1 in 4thquarter.
* Kirk Hinrich is averaging 5.4 ppg on 26.3 percent shooting over his last five contests. In his first game back after missing six contests with a finger injury, he went 0-for-9 - just the fourth time in his career he has gone without a field goal in a game while attempting at least seven shots.
* The Hawks have won their last four games against the Bulls. It's
* The Hawks defeated
* Luol Deng scored a season-high 27 points in
* The last time Joe Johnson faced the Bulls in
* Mike Bibby scored 31 points in his last game against the Bulls (1/20/2009). It was his third 30-point game versus
* The Bulls won last year's season series between the clubs, 3-1.
* After opening the season 6-4, the Bulls have lost seven of their last eight games, including two in a row.
* Chris Douglas-Roberts has scored over 20 points in three of his last five games.
* Luol Deng is averaging 11.3 points and shooting 39.4 percent from the field over his last three games after averaging 23.8 points on 49.3 percent shooting in his previous four contests.
* The Nets are forcing 4.1 more turnovers per game in their last seven games (18.3) than they did in their first 13 (14.2).
My take on the class of players who will become free agents at the end of this season is that LeBron James, like many of the big names that have been talked about, will end up re-signing with their current teams.
In LeBron's case, there's more incentive to stay than there is to leave. He's from the Cleveland area, his family is here and he has a built-in fan base. How much more can he make in endorsements? They've got his picture on the side of an entire building here in Cleveland.
The only incentive for him to leave would be if he felt the Cleveland team had no chance of winning a title. Ownership has demonstrated that they are committed to spending money to make the Cavaliers a winning team and I think they will continue to do so.
Boston, Orlando and a young Atlanta team are the main competition for the Cavs in the Eastern Conference. I think the Cavaliers, as they are currently constructed, are built to compete and win the East, but I don't think they are built to win the NBA title.
* The Bulls have lost their last five road contests, all but the last one by at least 15 points.
* Since losing to the Bulls at home on November 5, the Cavaliers have ripped off five straight wins on their own floor, averaging 107.2 ppg in these contests.
* Luol Deng has had 20+ points in three of his last five games against
* Anthony Parker ranks 4th in three-point percentage this season (.508 3FG%).
* LeBron James is averaging 9.3 ppg on .620 FG% in the first quarter of games this season.
* The Bulls will be looking to snap their five-game losing streak. They have been outscored 109.2 to 93.4 during their current slide.
* Ben Gordon, who has missed the last two games due to an ankle injury, is hoping to play against his former team for the first time since signing with
* Luol Deng has scored over 20 points in each of his last four games, averaging 23.8 points in that span. Deng hit the 20-point mark just three times in his 11 games prior.
* Ben Wallace is averaging 17.0 rebounds over his last two games and has grabbed at least 10 boards in eight games this season. Wallace grabbed 10 or more rebounds just nine times all of last season.